I’m going to SEMA next week to give this thing. It needs a bit of work before it’s giveable. I am not very good at revising after the first mad rush of writing. I guess that’s why they call it work.
The Beowulf poet introduces Grendel as one of the kin of Cain, from whom all the untydras spring: “Þanon untydras ealle onwocon” (111). While a great deal of critical attention has been paid to the nature and origins of the individual members of the genus untydras, very little exploration has been undertaken on untydras as a word. Most editors of Beowulf translate untydras in line with Klaeber’s gloss of “evil progeny.” Whether the translator’s choice is ‘evil progeny,’ ‘monster,’ or ‘bad broods,’ the untydras are almost always associated explicitly with evil. However, as Thalia Feldman notes in her 1981 article “Grendel and Cain’s Descendants,” “in no single other instance is either untyd or untydre used in OE with such moral connotations” (75). While context is often the ultimate arbiter in translation, we should not lose sight of philology, which may in turn complicate our perception of the operative context.
I argue that translators have been too quick to accept Klaeber’s moralistic gloss in rendering connotative judgment on the untydras of Beowulf. My in-depth study of the Old English corpus supports Feldman’s claim that the connotation of evil is simply not there in other usages outside of Beowulf, and I explore possibilities for a more complex and multivalent gloss. Latin glosses, leechbooks, poetry, and prose show that forms of –tydr- related to progeny and breeding are demonstrably the most common in the corpus. However, translations related to progeny are not the only option; confusions in headword entries, orthographic variations, and Latin glosses suggest associations with physical and moral weakness, barrenness, and destruction, all of which may enrich our understanding of the nature of the monstrous body and monstrous becoming in Beowulf.